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Ask a Diamond Pro: How Important is a High Clarity Grade?

By Mike Fried,

One of the most common topics we’re asked about is diamond clarity. We often get questions from readers asking whether it’s worth buying a diamond with a high clarity grade, such as the FL/IF clarity (Flawless/Internally Flawless) or the VVS clarity (Very Very Small Inclusions).

The simple answer to this question is no — those clarity grades usually aren’t worth the extra money. Instead, it’s better to focus on choosing a diamond that’s eye-clean, regardless of the specific clarity grade that’s on its certificate.

A few years ago, we received this email from a reader:

I was wondering if you could kindly help/advise me on an engagement ring for my girlfriend. She’s 3 years older than me and she’s always felt a little sensitive about it so I’m not sure on whether Princess or Round or the setting.

I’m looking for a 1.5-2ct and my budget is around 10-15k USD. I think she would pref round but I’m not sure I don’t want to screw this up like I did with the expensive bag I bought her… she’s not a high-maintenance/materialistic girl but I wanted to make her feel special and it backfired big time!

I was looking at a IF [Internally Flawless] on Blue Nile to be safe but after reading your site, you have a good point about the industry guilt people into overspending even if it won’t be appreciated. Eye-clean is a really strong point but does it matter in terms of the meaning to say it was IF?

Thanks for your help, I hope you can get back to me with your recommendations but even so, your site has been amazingly helpful already!

The reader later said in a follow-up email that he was considering getting an IF diamond, as he was worried that a “flawed” diamond might not get a good reaction from his girlfriend.

Since questions about clarity are so common, let’s look at how diamond clarity grading actually works, as well as why buying a “flawless” diamond generally isn’t a good idea.

Are Internally Flawless Diamonds Worth It?

In general, our approach to shopping for a diamond is simple: you should try to spend as much as your budget allows on the things you will notice, while minimizing the amount that you spend on the things you won’t notice. 

Some aspects of a diamond are much more visible than others. For example, a diamond’s carat weight has a huge impact on how it looks. Generally, a heavier diamond is bigger, giving it more presence on your partner’s finger. 

Likewise, a higher diamond cut grade will result in more brilliance than a low cut grade, giving a diamond a more impressive, eye-catching appearance. 

Because of this, we always recommend choosing a diamond with an ”Excellent” or “Ideal” grade for cut, since this has a huge impact on how it will look once it’s inside an engagement ring. 

With diamond clarity, however, things are very different. Beyond a certain point, a clarity grade has little to no impact on diamond’s appearance. It will, however, have a huge impact on its price.

A large part of this is due to the way diamonds are graded for clarity. The GIA evaluates diamonds under 10x magnification, allowing inclusions that are invisible to the naked eye to look obvious to the trained diamond expert performing the evaluation. This means that many inclusions that are easy to see in a lab setting are invisible in real life.

As the GIA even states: “Many inclusions and blemishes are too tiny to be seen by anyone other than a trained diamond grader. To the naked eye, a VS1 and an SI2 diamond may look exactly the same, but these diamonds are quite different in terms of overall quality.”

As a customer, you can get the best deal by choosing a diamond with a slightly lower clarity grade that features inclusions that are simply too small to be visible to the naked eye.

For example, take a look at the two diamonds below. Both are the same size and have the exact same cut quality and color grades. One is graded IF, while the other has VS1 clarity. Try to guess which is which.

A comparison of IF and VS1 diamond

If you guessed that the diamond on the left has the IF clarity grade, well done. The diamond on the right is graded VS1, while the diamond on the left is graded IF. Even under magnification, it’s difficult to see any significant difference in clarity. 

In exchange for this tiny, imperceptible difference in clarity, these diamonds have a difference in price of more than $1,000. 

If “perfection” is worth an extra $1,000 to you, then by all means purchase the IF diamond. But that $1,000 could be spent much more effectively on a larger diamond, a more beautiful setting or anything else that takes your fancy. 

This little exercise illustrates the point that diamond clarity, at least beyond a certain point, really isn’t worth paying for. Instead, it’s much better to look for a diamond that’s eye-clean, meaning it has no inclusions or blemishes when you look at it with your own eyes. 

When you look at diamonds online from a vendor like James Allen or Blue Nile, you’re given the opportunity to look at them under bright studio lighting and magnification. This is totally unlike in real life, where you’ll see a diamond at its real size in natural lighting conditions. 

Because online vendors give you such a detailed view of a diamond, it’s easy to assume that an inclusion or other blemish will be obvious when it’s viewed in person.

Of course, this isn’t the case. Once a diamond is in an engagement ring, all that matters is that it appears free of inclusions when you or your partner view it in person.

To avoid overpaying for clarity that you’ll never notice, we suggest using the following five tips to choose a diamond that’s eye-clean but affordable:

Tip #1

Pay attention to the clarity grade on the diamond’s GIA or AGS certificate, but don’t obsess over it. We suggest choosing a diamond in the VS or SI range, as these grades usually offer the best mix of eye-clean clarity and value for money. 

Tip #2

Inspect the diamond yourself. Don’t rely solely on the certificate, even if the diamond is graded well for clarity. Use the 360° view options provided by James Allen and Blue Nile to look for inclusions.

If you’re looking at diamonds in person, make sure to check them in natural lighting to see if any imperfections are visible. 

Tip #3

Take note of inclusions that are in obvious areas, such as a diamond’s table. Small, barely visible inclusions around the edges of a diamond are usually hidden by the prongs of its setting, whereas inclusions near the middle of the table are much more visible. 

Tip #4

Choose the lowest grade that provides an eye-clean appearance. For a round diamond, this will usually be a VS or SI. For other shapes, such as step cut diamonds, you might need to select a slightly higher grade to find a stone that’s truly eye-clean. 

Diamond Clarity Chart

We recommend reading our diamond shape guides if you’re considering buying a fancy shape diamond, as some display inclusions more readily than others.

Tip #5

And finally, if you’re not sure if a diamond is eye-clean or not, feel free to contact us for an expert opinion. We’ve reviewed thousands of diamonds for readers and will happily help you find an eye-clean diamond that matches your tastes and budget. 

Our Recommendation

Over the decades, diamond companies have invested immense amounts of money into various marketing myths about diamonds and love.

One of these is that you should spend a certain amount of your salary on a diamond. Another is the one that popped up in this exchange — that a “flawed” diamond might not send the right type of message to a potential wife. 

The reality is that a diamond’s clarity grade is not something that you should obsess over, nor is it a symbol of how meaningful an engagement ring is. In fact, the idea of “flawless” and “flawed” diamonds is to a large extent just artificial symbolism created by the diamond industry. 

Instead of paying extra for an Internally Flawless diamond, it’s much better to be pragmatic and find a diamond that’s eye-clean using the image tools on James Allen or Blue Nile

Then, take the significant amount of money you’ll save and spend it on a more beautiful setting, a larger diamond, a gift for your fiancée-to-be or a romantic vacation. 

You’ll get much more enjoyment from those things than you will by paying a premium to choose a “flawless” diamond. 

James Allen James Allen is the leader in online diamond sales. Their imaging technology is the same as inspecting a diamond with a jeweler's loupe. They have the largest exclusive loose diamond inventory online and fantastic prices. They also have the nicest collection of lab-created diamonds online.
What we love about them:
  • No questions asked returns within 30 days of shipment. James Allen will send you a paid shipping label to return the ring.
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Free International Shipping
  • Free prong tightening, repolishing, rhodium plating and cleaning every 6 months
  • Provide insurance appraisals
  • One free resizing within 60 days of purchase
  • Free ring inscriptions
  • Best-in-class high quality imagery of all diamonds in stock
  • 24/7 Customer Service
  • Best-in-class packaging
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Blue Nile Blue Nile is the largest and most well-known internet jewelry seller. They have a very large exclusive online inventory. Their high-quality images are catching up to James Allens' and their prices are amazing. 
What we love about them:
  • No questions asked returns within 30 days of shipment. Blue Nile will send you a paid shipping label to return the ring.
  • Lifetime Warranty
  • Free Shipping
  • Free prong tightening, repolishing, rhodium plating and cleaning every 6 months
  • Provide insurance appraisal
  • One free resizing within the first year of purchase
  • High quality images of about half of their diamonds
  • 24/7 Customer Service
  • 100% credit towards future upgrades (must be at least double in value)
  • Best in class fulfillment
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